Part 3 out of 6
Not to die
At the nigh
Breath of cold adversity_."
"'Tis well sung," quoth Robin, "but, cousin, I tell thee plain,
I would rather hear a stout fellow like thee sing some lusty
ballad than a finicking song of flowers and birds, and what not.
Yet, thou didst sing it fair, and 'tis none so bad a snatch of a song,
for the matter of that. Now, Tanner, it is thy turn."
"I know not," quoth Arthur, smiling, with his head on one side,
like a budding lass that is asked to dance, "I know not that I
can match our sweet friend's song; moreover, I do verily think
that I have caught a cold and have a certain tickling and huskiness
in the windpipe."
"Nay, sing up, friend," quoth Little John, who sat next to him,
patting him upon the shoulder. "Thou hast a fair, round, mellow voice;
let us have a touch of it."
"Nay, an ye will ha' a poor thing," said Arthur, "I will do my best.
Have ye ever heard of the wooing of Sir Keith, the stout young Cornish knight,
in good King Arthur's time?"
"Methinks I have heard somewhat of it," said Robin; "but ne'ertheless
strike up thy ditty and let us hear it, for, as I do remember me,
it is a gallant song; so out with it, good fellow."
Thereupon, clearing his throat, the Tanner, without more ado,
began to sing:
THE WOOING OF SIR KEITH
"_King Arthur sat in his royal hall,
And about on either hand
Was many a noble lordling tall,
The greatest in the land.
"Sat Lancelot with raven locks,
Gawaine with golden hair,
Sir Tristram, Kay who kept the locks,
And many another there.
"And through the stained windows bright,
From o'er the red-tiled eaves,
The sunlight blazed with colored light
On golden helms and greaves.
"But suddenly a silence came
About the Table Round,
For up the hall there walked a dame
Bent nigh unto the ground.
"Her nose was hooked, her eyes were bleared,
Her locks were lank and white;
Upon her chin there grew a beard;
She was a gruesome sight.
"And so with crawling step she came
And kneeled at Arthur's feet;
Quoth Kay, `She is the foulest dame
That e'er my sight did greet.'
" `O mighty King! of thee I crave
A boon on bended knee';
'Twas thus she spoke. `What wouldst thou have.'
Quoth Arthur, King, `of me_?'
"_Quoth she, `I have a foul disease
Doth gnaw my very heart,
And but one thing can bring me ease
Or cure my bitter smart.
" `There is no rest, no ease for me
North, east, or west, or south,
Till Christian knight will willingly
Thrice kiss me on the mouth.
" `Nor wedded may this childe have been
That giveth ease to me;
Nor may he be constrained, I ween,
But kiss me willingly.
" `So is there here one Christian knight
Of such a noble strain
That he will give a tortured wight
Sweet ease of mortal pain?'
" `A wedded man,' quoth Arthur, King,
`A wedded man I be
Else would I deem it noble thing
To kiss thee willingly.
" `Now, Lancelot, in all men's sight
Thou art the head and chief
Of chivalry. Come, noble knight,
And give her quick relief.'
"But Lancelot he turned aside
And looked upon the ground,
For it did sting his haughty pride
To hear them laugh around.
" `Come thou, Sir Tristram,' quoth the King.
Quoth he, `It cannot be,
For ne'er can I my stomach bring
To do it willingly.'
" `Wilt thou, Sir Kay, thou scornful wight?'
Quoth Kay, `Nay, by my troth!
What noble dame would kiss a knight
That kissed so foul a mouth_?'
" `_Wilt thou, Gawaine?' `I cannot, King.'
`Sir Geraint?' `Nay, not I;
My kisses no relief could bring,
For sooner would I die.'
"Then up and spake the youngest man
Of all about the board,
'Now such relief as Christian can
I'll give to her, my lord.'
"It was Sir Keith, a youthful knight,
Yet strong of limb and bold,
With beard upon his chin as light
As finest threads of gold.
"Quoth Kay, `He hath no mistress yet
That he may call his own,
But here is one that's quick to get,
As she herself has shown.'
"He kissed her once, he kissed her twice,
He kissed her three times o'er,
A wondrous change came in a trice,
And she was foul no more.
"Her cheeks grew red as any rose,
Her brow as white as lawn,
Her bosom like the winter snows,
Her eyes like those of fawn.
"Her breath grew sweet as summer breeze
That blows the meadows o'er;
Her voice grew soft as rustling trees,
And cracked and harsh no more.
"Her hair grew glittering, like the gold,
Her hands as white as milk;
Her filthy rags, so foul and old,
Were changed to robes of silk.
"In great amaze the knights did stare.
Quoth Kay, `I make my vow
If it will please thee, lady fair,
I'll gladly kiss thee now_.'
"_But young Sir Keith kneeled on one knee
And kissed her robes so fair.
`O let me be thy slave,' said he,
`For none to thee compare.'
"She bent her down, she kissed his brow,
She kissed his lips and eyes.
Quoth she, `Thou art my master now,
My lord, my love, arise!
" `And all the wealth that is mine own,
My lands, I give to thee,
For never knight hath lady shown
Such noble courtesy.
" `Bewitched was I, in bitter pain,
But thou hast set me free,
So now I am myself again,
I give myself to thee_.' "
"Yea, truly," quoth Robin Hood, when the Tanner had made an end of singing,
"it is as I remember it, a fair ditty, and a ballad with a pleasing tune
of a song."
"It hath oftentimes seemed to me," said Will Scarlet,
"that it hath a certain motive in it, e'en such as this:
That a duty which seemeth to us sometimes ugly and harsh,
when we do kiss it fairly upon the mouth, so to speak,
is no such foul thing after all."
"Methinks thou art right," quoth Robin, "and, contrariwise,
that when we kiss a pleasure that appeareth gay it turneth foul to us;
is it not so, Little John? Truly such a thing hath brought thee
sore thumps this day. Nay, man, never look down in the mouth.
Clear thy pipes and sing us a ditty."
"Nay," said Little John, "I have none as fair as that merry
Arthur has trolled. They are all poor things that I know.
Moreover, my voice is not in tune today, and I would not spoil
even a tolerable song by ill singing."
Upon this all pressed Little John to sing, so that when
he had denied them a proper length of time, such as is
seemly in one that is asked to sing, he presently yielded.
Quoth he, `Well, an ye will ha' it so, I will give you what I can.
Like to fair Will, I have no title to my ditty, but thus it runs:
"_O Lady mine, the spring is here,
With a hey nonny nonny;
The sweet love season of the year,
With a ninny ninny nonny;
Now lad and lass
Lie in the grass
That groweth green
With flowers between.
The buck doth rest
The leaves do start,
The cock doth crow,
The breeze doth blow,
And all things laugh in_--"
"Who may yon fellow be coming along the road?" said Robin,
breaking into the song.
"I know not," quoth Little John in a surly voice. "But this I do know,
that it is an ill thing to do to check the flow of a good song."
"Nay, Little John," said Robin, "be not vexed, I prythee;
but I have been watching him coming along, bent beneath that great
bag over his shoulder, ever since thou didst begin thy song.
Look, Little John, I pray, and see if thou knowest him."
Little John looked whither Robin Hood pointed. "Truly," quoth he,
after a time, "I think yon fellow is a certain young miller
I have seen now and then around the edge of Sherwood;
a poor wight, methinks, to spoil a good song about."
"Now thou speakest of him," quoth Robin Hood, "methinks I myself have
seen him now and then. Hath he not a mill over beyond Nottingham Town,
nigh to the Salisbury road?"
"Thou art right; that is the man," said Little John.
"A good stout fellow," quoth Robin. "I saw him crack Ned o'
Bradford's crown about a fortnight since, and never saw I hair
lifted more neatly in all my life before."
By this time the young miller had come so near that they could see
him clearly. His clothes were dusted with flour, and over his back
he carried a great sack of meal, bending so as to bring the whole weight
upon his shoulders, and across the sack was a thick quarterstaff.
His limbs were stout and strong, and he strode along the dusty
road right sturdily with the heavy sack across his shoulders.
His cheeks were ruddy as a winter hip, his hair was flaxen in color,
and on his chin was a downy growth of flaxen beard.
"A good honest fellow," quoth Robin Hood, "and such an one as is a
credit to English yeomanrie. Now let us have a merry jest with him.
We will forth as though we were common thieves and pretend to rob him
of his honest gains. Then will we take him into the forest and give
him a feast such as his stomach never held in all his life before.
We will flood his throat with good canary and send him home with crowns
in his purse for every penny he hath. What say ye, lads?"
"Truly, it is a merry thought," said Will Scarlet.
"It is well planned," quoth Little John, "but all the saints
preserve us from any more drubbings this day! Marry, my poor
bones ache so that I--"
"Prythee peace, Little John," quoth Robin. "Thy foolish tongue
will get us both well laughed at yet."
"My foolish tongue, forsooth," growled Little John to Arthur
a Bland. "I would it could keep our master from getting us
into another coil this day."
But now the Miller, plodding along the road, had come opposite
to where the yeomen lay hidden, whereupon all four of them ran
at him and surrounded him.
"Hold, friend!" cried Robin to the Miller; whereupon he turned slowly,
with the weight of the bag upon his shoulder, and looked at each in turn
all bewildered, for though a good stout man his wits did not skip
like roasting chestnuts.
"Who bids me stay?" said the Miller in a voice deep and gruff,
like the growl of a great dog.
"Marry, that do I," quoth Robin; "and let me tell thee, friend, thou hadst
best mind my bidding."
"And who art thou, good friend?" said the Miller, throwing the great sack
of meal from his shoulder to the ground, "and who are those with thee?"
"We be four good Christian men," quoth Robin, "and would fain
help thee by carrying part of thy heavy load."
"I give you all thanks," said the Miller, "but my bag is none
that heavy that I cannot carry it e'en by myself."
"Nay, thou dost mistake," quoth Robin, "I meant that thou
mightest perhaps have some heavy farthings or pence about thee,
not to speak of silver and gold. Our good Gaffer Swanthold sayeth
that gold is an overheavy burden for a two-legged ass to carry;
so we would e'en lift some of this load from thee."
"Alas!" cried the Miller, "what would ye do to me?
I have not about me so much as a clipped groat.
Do me no harm, I pray you, but let me depart in peace.
Moreover, let me tell you that ye are upon Robin Hood's ground,
and should he find you seeking to rob an honest craftsman,
he will clip your ears to your heads and scourge you even
to the walls of Nottingham.
"In truth I fear Robin Hood no more than I do myself,"
quoth jolly Robin. "Thou must this day give up to me every
penny thou hast about thee. Nay, if thou dost budge an inch
I will rattle this staff about thine ears."
"Nay, smite me not!" cried the Miller, throwing up his elbow
as though he feared the blow. "Thou mayst search me if thou wilt,
but thou wilt find nothing upon me, pouch, pocket, or skin."
"Is it so?" quoth Robin Hood, looking keenly upon him.
"Now I believe that what thou tellest is no true tale.
If I am not much mistook thou hast somewhat in the bottom of that
fat sack of meal. Good Arthur, empty the bag upon the ground;
I warrant thou wilt find a shilling or two in the flour."
"Alas!" cried the Miller, falling upon his knees, "spoil not
all my good meal! It can better you not, and will ruin me.
Spare it, and I will give up the money in the bag."
"Ha!" quoth Robin, nudging Will Scarlet. "Is it so?
And have I found where thy money lies? Marry, I have a wondrous
nose for the blessed image of good King Harry. I thought
that I smelled gold and silver beneath the barley meal.
Bring it straight forth, Miller."
Then slowly the Miller arose to his feet, and slowly and unwillingly he untied
the mouth of the bag, and slowly thrust his hands into the meal and began
fumbling about with his arms buried to the elbows in the barley flour.
The others gathered round him, their heads together, looking and wondering
what he would bring forth.
So they stood, all with their heads close together gazing
down into the sack. But while he pretended to be searching
for the money, the Miller gathered two great handfuls of meal.
"Ha," quoth he, "here they are, the beauties." Then, as the others
leaned still more forward to see what he had, he suddenly
cast the meal into their faces, filling their eyes and noses
and mouths with the flour, blinding and half choking them.
Arthur a Bland was worse off than any, for his mouth was open,
agape with wonder of what was to come, so that a great cloud
of flour flew down his throat, setting him a-coughing till
he could scarcely stand.
Then, while all four stumbled about, roaring with the smart
of the meal in their eyeballs, and while they rubbed their eyes
till the tears made great channels on their faces through the meal,
the Miller seized another handful of flour and another and another,
throwing it in their faces, so that even had they had a glimmering of
light before they were now as blind as ever a beggar in Nottinghamshire,
while their hair and beards and clothes were as white as snow.
Then catching up his great crabstaff, the Miller began
laying about him as though he were clean gone mad.
This way and that skipped the four, like peas on a drumhead,
but they could see neither to defend themselves nor to run away.
Thwack! thwack! went the Miller's cudgel across their backs,
and at every blow great white clouds of flour rose in the air
from their jackets and went drifting down the breeze.
"Stop!" roared Robin at last. "Give over, good friend,
I am Robin Hood!"
"Thou liest, thou knave," cried the Miller, giving him a rap on
the ribs that sent up a great cloud of flour like a puff of smoke.
"Stout Robin never robbed an honest tradesman. Ha! thou wouldst
have my money, wouldst thou?" And he gave him another blow.
"Nay, thou art not getting thy share, thou long-legged knave.
Share and share alike." And he smote Little John across
the shoulders so that he sent him skipping half across the road.
"Nay, fear not, it is thy turn now, black beard." And he gave
the Tanner a crack that made him roar for all his coughing.
"How now, red coat, let me brush the dust from thee!"
cried he, smiting Will Scarlet. And so he gave them merry words
and blows until they could scarcely stand, and whenever he saw
one like to clear his eyes he threw more flour in his face.
At last Robin Hood found his horn and clapping it to his lips,
blew three loud blasts upon it.
Now it chanced that Will Stutely and a party of Robin's men were in the glade
not far from where this merry sport was going forward. Hearing the hubbub
of voices, and blows that sounded like the noise of a flail in the barn
in wintertime, they stopped, listening and wondering what was toward.
Quoth Will Stutely, "Now if I mistake not there is some stout battle with
cudgels going forward not far hence. I would fain see this pretty sight."
So saying, he and the whole party turned their steps whence the noise came.
When they had come near where all the tumult sounded they heard the three
blasts of Robin's bugle horn.
"Quick!" cried young David of Doncaster. "Our master is in sore need!"
So, without stopping a moment, they dashed forward with might and main
and burst forth from the covert into the highroad.
But what a sight was that which they saw! The road was all white with meal,
and five men stood there also white with meal from top to toe, for much
of the barley flour had fallen back upon the Miller.
"What is thy need, master?" cried Will Stutely. "And what doth
all this mean?"
"Why," quoth Robin in a mighty passion, "yon traitor felt low
hath come as nigh slaying me as e'er a man in all the world.
Hadst thou not come quickly, good Stutely, thy master had been dead."
Hereupon, while he and the three others rubbed the meal from their eyes,
and Will Stutely and his men brushed their clothes clean, he told them all;
how that he had meant to pass a jest upon the Miller, which same had turned
so grievously upon them.
"Quick, men, seize the vile Miller!" cried Stutely, who was nigh choking
with laughter as were the rest; whereupon several ran upon the stout fellow
and seizing him, bound his arms behind his back with bowstrings.
"Ha!" cried Robin, when they brought the trembling Miller to him.
"Thou wouldst murder me, wouldst thou? By my faith"--
Here he stopped and stood glaring upon the, Miller grimly.
But Robin's anger could not hold, so first his eyes twinkled,
and then in spite of all he broke into a laugh.
Now when they saw their master laugh, the yeomen who stood around
could contain themselves no longer, and a mighty shout of laughter
went up from all. Many could not stand, but rolled upon the ground
from pure merriment.
"What is thy name, good fellow?" said Robin at last to the Miller,
who stood gaping and as though he were in amaze.
"Alas, sir, I am Midge, the Miller's son," said he in a frightened voice.
"I make my vow," quoth merry Robin, smiting him upon the shoulder,
"thou art the mightiest Midge that e'er mine eyes beheld.
Now wilt thou leave thy dusty mill and come and join my band?
By my faith, thou art too stout a man to spend thy days betwixt
the hopper and the till."
"Then truly, if thou dost forgive me for the blows I struck,
not knowing who thou wast, I will join with thee right merrily,"
said the Miller.
"Then have I gained this day," quoth Robin, "the three stoutest yeomen
in all Nottinghamshire. We will get us away to the greenwood tree, and there
hold a merry feast in honor of our new friends, and mayhap a cup or two
of good sack and canary may mellow the soreness of my poor joints and bones,
though I warrant it will be many a day before I am again the man I was."
So saying, he turned and led the way, the rest following, and so they
entered the forest once more and were lost to sight.
So that night all was ablaze with crackling fires in the woodlands,
for though Robin and those others spoken of, only excepting Midge,
the Miller's son, had many a sore bump and bruise here and there on
their bodies, they were still not so sore in the joints that they could not
enjoy a jolly feast given all in welcome to the new members of the band.
Thus with songs and jesting and laughter that echoed through the deeper
and more silent nooks of the forest, the night passed quickly along,
as such merry times are wont to do, until at last each man sought his
couch and silence fell on all things and all things seemed to sleep.
But Little John's tongue was ever one that was not easy
of guidance, so that, inch by inch, the whole story of his fight
with the Tanner and Robin's fight with Will Scarlet leaked out.
And so I have told it that you may laugh at the merry tale
along with me.
Robin Hood and Allan a Dale
IT HAS just been told how three unlucky adventures fell upon Robin Hood
and Little John all in one day bringing them sore ribs and aching bones.
So next we will tell how they made up for those ill happenings by a good
action that came about not without some small pain to Robin.
Two days had passed by, and somewhat of the soreness had passed
away from Robin Hood's joints, yet still, when he moved of a sudden
and without thinking, pain here and there would, as it were,
jog him, crying, "Thou hast had a drubbing, good fellow."
The day was bright and jocund, and the morning dew still lay upon the grass.
Under the greenwood tree sat Robin Hood; on one side was Will Scarlet,
lying at full length upon his back, gazing up into the clear sky,
with hands clasped behind his head; upon the other side sat Little John,
fashioning a cudgel out of a stout crab-tree limb; elsewhere upon the grass
sat or lay many others of the band.
"By the faith of my heart," quoth merry Robin, "I do bethink me
that we have had no one to dine with us for this long time.
Our money groweth low in the purse, for no one hath come to pay
a reckoning for many a day. Now busk thee, good Stutely, and choose
thee six men, and get thee gone to Fosse Way or thereabouts,
and see that thou bringest someone to eat with us this evening.
Meantime we will prepare a grand feast to do whosoever may come
the greater honor. And stay, good Stutely. I would have thee
take Will Scarlet with thee, for it is meet that he should become
acquaint with the ways of the forest."
"Now do I thank thee, good master," quoth Stutely, springing to his feet,
"that thou hast chosen me for this adventure. Truly, my limbs
do grow slack through abiding idly here. As for two of my six,
I will choose Midge the Miller and Arthur a Bland, for, as well
thou knowest, good master, they are stout fists at the quarterstaff.
Is it not so, Little John?"
At this all laughed but Little John and Robin, who twisted up his face.
"I can speak for Midge," said he, "and likewise for my cousin Scarlet.
This very blessed morn I looked at my ribs and found them as many colors
as a beggar's cloak."
So, having chosen four more stout fellows, Will Stutely and his band set
forth to Fosse Way, to find whether they might not come across some rich
guest to feast that day in Sherwood with Robin and his band.
For all the livelong day they abided near this highway.
Each man had brought with him a good store of cold meat and a bottle
of stout March beer to stay his stomach till the homecoming.
So when high noontide had come they sat them down upon the soft grass,
beneath a green and wide-spreading hawthorn bush, and held a hearty
and jovial feast. After this, one kept watch while the others napped,
for it was a still and sultry day.
Thus they passed the time pleasantly enow, but no guest such as they
desired showed his face in all the time that they lay hidden there.
Many passed along the dusty road in the glare of the sun:
now it was a bevy of chattering damsels merrily tripping along;
now it was a plodding tinker; now a merry shepherd lad;
now a sturdy farmer; all gazing ahead along the road,
unconscious of the seven stout fellows that lay hidden so near them.
Such were the travelers along the way; but fat abbot, rich esquire,
or money-laden usurer came there none.
At last the sun began to sink low in the heavens; the light
grew red and the shadows long. The air grew full of silence,
the birds twittered sleepily, and from afar came, faint and clear,
the musical song of the milkmaid calling the kine home
to the milking.
Then Stutely arose from where he was lying. "A plague of such ill luck!"
quoth he. "Here have we abided all day, and no bird worth
the shooting, so to speak, hath come within reach of our bolt.
Had I gone forth on an innocent errand, I had met a dozen stout
priests or a score of pursy money-lenders. But it is ever thus:
the dun deer are never so scarce as when one has a gray goose
feather nipped betwixt the fingers. Come, lads, let us pack up
and home again, say I."
Accordingly, the others arose, and, coming forth from out the thicket,
they all turned their toes back again to Sherwood. After they had gone
some distance, Will Stutely, who headed the party, suddenly stopped.
"Hist!" quoth he, for his ears were as sharp as those of a five-year-old fox.
"Hark, lads! Methinks I hear a sound." At this all stopped and listened
with bated breath, albeit for a time they could hear nothing, their ears being
duller than Stutely's. At length they heard a faint and melancholy sound,
like someone in lamentation.
"Ha!" quoth Will Scarlet, "this must be looked into.
There is someone in distress nigh to us here."
"I know not," quoth Will Stutely, shaking his head doubtfully,
"our master is ever rash about thrusting his finger into a boiling pot;
but, for my part, I see no use in getting ourselves into mischievous coils.
Yon is a man's voice, if I mistake not, and a man should be always ready
to get himself out from his own pothers."
Then out spake Will Scarlet boldly. "Now out upon thee,
to talk in that manner, Stutely! Stay, if thou dost list.
I go to see what may be the trouble of this poor creature."
"Nay," quoth Stutely, "thou dost leap so quickly, thou'lt tumble into
the ditch. Who said I would not go? Come along, say I." Thus saying,
he led the way, the others following, till, after they had gone
a short distance, they came to a little opening in the woodland,
whence a brook, after gurgling out from under the tangle of
overhanging bushes, spread out into a broad and glassy-pebbled pool.
By the side of this pool, and beneath the branches of a willow, lay a
youth upon his face, weeping aloud, the sound of which had first caught
the quick ears of Stutely. His golden locks were tangled, his clothes
were all awry, and everything about him betokened sorrow and woe.
Over his head, from the branches of the osier, hung a beautiful harp
of polished wood inlaid with gold and silver in fantastic devices.
Beside him lay a stout ashen bow and half a score of fair, smooth arrows.
"Halloa!" shouted Will Stutely, when they had come out from the forest
into the little open spot. "Who art thou, fellow, that liest there
killing all the green grass with salt water?"
Hearing the voice, the stranger sprang to his feet and;
snatching up his bow and fitting a shaft, held himself in readiness
for whatever ill might befall him.
"Truly," said one of the yeomen, when they had seen the young
stranger's face, "I do know that lad right well. He is a certain
minstrel that I have seen hereabouts more than once. It was only
a week ago I saw him skipping across the hill like a yearling doe.
A fine sight he was then, with a flower at his ear and a cock's
plume stuck in his cap; but now, methinks, our cockerel is shorn
of his gay feathers."
"Pah!" cried Will Stutely, coming up to the stranger,
"wipe thine eyes, man! I do hate to see a tall, stout fellow
so sniveling like a girl of fourteen over a dead tomtit.
Put down thy bow, man! We mean thee no harm."
But Will Scarlet, seeing how the stranger, who had a young
and boyish look, was stung by the words that Stutely had spoken,
came to him and put his hand upon the youth's shoulder.
"Nay, thou art in trouble, poor boy!" said he kindly.
"Mind not what these fellows have said. They are rough, but they
mean thee well. Mayhap they do not understand a lad like thee.
Thou shalt come with us, and perchance we may find a certain one
that can aid thee in thy perplexities, whatsoever they may be."
"Yea, truly, come along," said Will Stutely gruffly.
"I meant thee no harm, and may mean thee some good.
Take down thy singing tool from off this fair tree,
and away with us."
The youth did as he was bidden and, with bowed head and sorrowful step,
accompanied the others, walking beside Will Scarlet. So they
wended their way through the forest. The bright light faded
from the sky and a glimmering gray fell over all things.
From the deeper recesses of the forest the strange whispering
sounds of night-time came to the ear; all else was silent,
saving only for the rattling of their footsteps amid the crisp,
dry leaves of the last winter. At last a ruddy glow shone
before them here and there through the trees; a little farther
and they came to the open glade, now bathed in the pale moonlight.
In the center of the open crackled a great fire, throwing a red
glow on all around. At the fire were roasting juicy steaks
of venison, pheasants, capons, and fresh fish from the river.
All the air was filled with the sweet smell of good things cooking.
The little band made its way across the glade, many yeomen turning with
curious looks and gazing after them, but none speaking or questioning them.
So, with Will Scarlet upon one side and Will Stutely upon the other,
the stranger came to where Robin Hood sat on a seat of moss under
the greenwood tree, with Little John standing beside him.
"Good even, fair friend," said Robin Hood, rising as the other drew near.
"And hast thou come to feast with me this day?"
"Alas! I know not," said the lad, looking around him with
dazed eyes, for he was bewildered with all that he saw.
"Truly, I know not whether I be in a dream," said he to himself
in a low voice.
"Nay, marry," quoth Robin, laughing, "thou art awake, as thou
wilt presently find, for a fine feast is a-cooking for thee.
Thou art our honored guest this day."
Still the young stranger looked about him, as though in a dream.
Presently he turned to Robin. "Methinks," said he, "I know now where I
am and what hath befallen me. Art not thou the great Robin Hood?"
"Thou hast hit the bull's eye," quoth Robin, clapping him upon the shoulder.
"Men hereabouts do call me by that name. Sin' thou knowest me,
thou knowest also that he who feasteth with me must pay his reckoning.
I trust thou hast a full purse with thee, fair stranger."
"Alas!" said the stranger, "I have no purse nor no money either,
saving only the half of a sixpence, the other half of which mine own
dear love doth carry in her bosom, hung about her neck by a strand
of silken thread."
At this speech a great shout of laughter went up from those around,
whereat the poor boy looked as he would die of shame; but Robin Hood
turned sharply to Will Stutely. "Why, how now," quoth he,
"is this the guest that thou hast brought us to fill our purse?
Methinks thou hast brought but a lean cock to the market."
"Nay, good master," answered Will Stutely, grinning, "he is no guest of mine;
it was Will Scarlet that brought him thither."
Then up spoke Will Scarlet, and told how they had found
the lad in sorrow, and how he had brought him to Robin,
thinking that he might perchance aid him in his trouble.
Then Robin Hood turned to the youth, and, placing his hand
upon the other's shoulder, held him off at arm's length,
scanning his face closely.
"A young face," quoth he in a low voice, half to himself, "a kind face,
a good face. 'Tis like a maiden's for purity, and, withal, the fairest
that e'er mine eyes did see; but, if I may judge fairly by thy looks,
grief cometh to young as well as to old." At these words, spoken so kindly,
the poor lad's eyes brimmed up with tears. "Nay, nay," said Robin hastily,
"cheer up, lad; I warrant thy case is not so bad that it cannot be mended.
What may be thy name?"
"Allen a Dale is my name, good master."
"Allen a Dale," repeated Robin, musing. "Allen a Dale. It doth
seem to me that the name is not altogether strange to mine ears.
Yea, surely thou art the minstrel of whom we have been hearing lately,
whose voice so charmeth all men. Dost thou not come from the Dale
of Rotherstream, over beyond Stavely?"
"Yea, truly," answered Allan, "I do come thence."
"How old art thou, Allan?" said Robin.
"I am but twenty years of age."
"Methinks thou art overyoung to be perplexed with trouble,"
quoth Robin kindly; then, turning to the others, he cried,
"Come, lads, busk ye and get our feast ready; only thou,
Will Scarlet, and thou, Little John, stay here with me."
Then, when the others had gone, each man about his business, Robin turned
once more to the youth. "Now, lad," said he, "tell us thy troubles,
and speak freely. A flow of words doth ever ease the heart of sorrows;
it is like opening the waste weir when the mill dam is overfull.
Come, sit thou here beside me, and speak at thine ease."
Then straightway the youth told the three yeomen all that was in his heart;
at first in broken words and phrases, then freely and with greater
ease when he saw that all listened closely to what he said.
So he told them how he had come from York to the sweet vale of Rother,
traveling the country through as a minstrel, stopping now at castle,
now at hall, and now at farmhouse; how he had spent one sweet evening
in a certain broad, low farmhouse, where he sang before a stout
franklin and a maiden as pure and lovely as the first snowdrop
of spring; how he had played and sung to her, and how sweet Ellen o'
the Dale had listened to him and had loved him. Then, in a low,
sweet voice, scarcely louder than a whisper, he told how he had watched
for her and met her now and then when she went abroad, but was all
too afraid in her sweet presence to speak to her, until at last,
beside the banks of Rother, he had spoken of his love, and she
had whispered that which had made his heartstrings quiver for joy.
Then they broke a sixpence between them, and vowed to be true
to one another forever.
Next he told how her father had discovered what was a-doing, and had
taken her away from him so that he never saw her again, and his heart
was sometimes like to break; how this morn, only one short month
and a half from the time that he had seen her last, he had heard
and knew it to be so, that she was to marry old Sir Stephen of Trent,
two days hence, for Ellen's father thought it would be a grand
thing to have his daughter marry so high, albeit she wished it not;
nor was it wonder that a knight should wish to marry his own sweet love,
who was the most beautiful maiden in all the world.
To all this the yeomen listened in silence, the clatter of
many voices, jesting and laughing, sounding around them, and the red
light of the fire shining on their faces and in their eyes.
So simple were the poor boy's words, and so deep his sorrow,
that even Little John felt a certain knotty lump rise in his throat.
"I wonder not," said Robin, after a moment's silence, "that thy true
love loved thee, for thou hast surely a silver cross beneath thy tongue,
even like good Saint Francis, that could charm the birds of the air
by his speech."
"By the breath of my body," burst forth Little John, seeking to cover
his feelings with angry words, "I have a great part of a mind to go
straightway and cudgel the nasty life out of the body of that same vile
Sir Stephen. Marry, come up, say I--what a plague--does an old weazen
think that tender lasses are to be bought like pullets o' a market day?
Out upon him!--I-- but no matter, only let him look to himself."
Then up spoke Will Scarlet. "Methinks it seemeth but ill done of the lass
that she should so quickly change at others' bidding, more especially when it
cometh to the marrying of a man as old as this same Sir Stephen. I like it
not in her, Allan."
"Nay," said Allan hotly, "thou dost wrong her. She is as soft
and gentle as a stockdove. I know her better than anyone
in all the world. She may do her father's bidding, but if she
marries Sir Stephen, her heart will break and she will die.
My own sweet dear, I--" He stopped and shook his head,
for he could say nothing further.
While the others were speaking, Robin Hood had been sunk in thought.
"Methinks I have a plan might fit thy case, Allan," said he.
"But tell me first, thinkest thou, lad, that thy true love hath spirit
enough to marry thee were ye together in church, the banns published,
and the priest found, even were her father to say her nay?"
"Ay, marry would she," cried Allan eagerly.
"Then, if her father be the man that I take him to be, I will undertake
that he shall give you both his blessing as wedded man and wife,
in the place of old Sir Stephen, and upon his wedding morn.
But stay, now I bethink me, there is one thing reckoned not upon--
the priest. Truly, those of the cloth do not love me overmuch,
and when it comes to doing as I desire in such a matter, they are
as like as not to prove stiff-necked. As to the lesser clergy,
they fear to do me a favor because of abbot or bishop.
"Nay," quoth Will Scarlet, laughing, "so far as that goeth, I know
of a certain friar that, couldst thou but get on the soft side of him,
would do thy business even though Pope Joan herself stood forth to ban him.
He is known as the Curtal Friar of Fountain Abbey, and dwelleth
in Fountain Dale."
"But," quoth Robin, "Fountain Abbey is a good hundred miles from here.
An we would help this lad, we have no time to go thither and back before
his true love will be married. Nought is to be gained there, coz."
"Yea," quoth Will Scarlet, laughing again, "but this Fountain Abbey
is not so far away as the one of which thou speakest, uncle.
The Fountain Abbey of which I speak is no such rich and proud place
as the other, but a simple little cell; yet, withal, as cosy a spot
as ever stout anchorite dwelled within. I know the place well,
and can guide thee thither, for, though it is a goodly distance,
yet methinks a stout pair of legs could carry a man there and back
in one day."
"Then give me thy hand, Allan," cried Robin, "and let me
tell thee, I swear by the bright hair of Saint AElfrida
that this time two days hence Ellen a Dale shall be thy wife.
I will seek this same Friar of Fountain Abbey tomorrow day,
and I warrant I will get upon the soft side of him, even if I
have to drub one soft."
At this Will Scarlet laughed again. "Be not too sure of that,
good uncle," quoth he, "nevertheless, from what I know of him,
I think this Curtal Friar will gladly join two such fair lovers,
more especially if there be good eating and drinking afoot thereafter."
But now one of the band came to say that the feast was spread
upon the grass; so, Robin leading the way, the others followed
to where the goodly feast was spread. Merry was the meal.
Jest and story passed freely, and all laughed till the forest rang again.
Allan laughed with the rest, for his cheeks were flushed with the hope
that Robin Hood had given him.
At last the feast was done, and Robin Hood turned to Allan, who sat
beside him. "Now, Allan," quoth he, "so much has been said of thy
singing that we would fain have a taste of thy skill ourselves.
Canst thou not give us something?"
"Surely," answered Allan readily; for he was no third-rate
songster that must be asked again and again, but said "yes"
or "no" at the first bidding; so, taking up his harp,
he ran his fingers lightly over the sweetly sounding strings,
and all was hushed about the cloth. Then, backing his voice
with sweet music on his harp, he sang:
MAY ELLEN'S WEDDING
(Giving an account of how she was beloved by a fairy prince,
who took her to his own home.)
"_May Ellen sat beneath a thorn
And in a shower around
The blossoms fell at every breeze
Like snow upon the ground,
And in a lime tree near was heard
The sweet song of a strange, wild bird.
"O sweet, sweet, sweet, O piercing sweet,
O lingering sweet the strain!
May Ellen's heart within her breast
Stood still with blissful pain:
And so, with listening, upturned face,
She sat as dead in that fair place.
" `Come down from out the blossoms, bird!
Come down from out the tree,
And on my heart I'll let thee lie,
And love thee tenderly!'
Thus cried May Ellen, soft and low,
From where the hawthorn shed its snow.
"Down dropped the bird on quivering wing,
From out the blossoming tree,
And nestled in her snowy breast.
`My love! my love!' cried she;
Then straightway home, 'mid sun and flower,
She bare him to her own sweet bower.
"The day hath passed to mellow night,
The moon floats o'er the lea,
And in its solemn, pallid light
A youth stands silently:
A youth of beauty strange and rare,
Within May Ellen's bower there.
"He stood where o'er the pavement cold
The glimmering moonbeams lay.
May Ellen gazed with wide, scared eyes,
Nor could she turn away,
For, as in mystic dreams we see
A spirit, stood he silently.
"All in a low and breathless voice,
`Whence comest thou?' said she;
`Art thou the creature of a dream,
Or a vision that I see?'
Then soft spake he, as night winds shiver
Through straining reeds beside the river.
" `I came, a bird on feathered wing,
From distant Faeryland
Where murmuring waters softly sing
Upon the golden strand,
Where sweet trees are forever green;
And there my mother is the queen.'
. . . . . . .
"No more May Ellen leaves her bower
To grace the blossoms fair;
But in the hushed and midnight hour
They hear her talking there,
Or, when the moon is shining white,
They hear her singing through the night.
" `Oh, don thy silks and jewels fine,'
May Ellen's mother said,
`For hither comes the Lord of Lyne
And thou this lord must wed.'
May Ellen said, `It may not be.
He ne'er shall find his wife in me.'
"Up spoke her brother, dark and grim:
`Now by the bright blue sky,
E'er yet a day hath gone for him
Thy wicked bird shall die!
For he hath wrought thee bitter harm,
By some strange art or cunning charm.'
"Then, with a sad and mournful song,
Away the bird did fly,
And o'er the castle eaves, and through
The gray and windy sky.
`Come forth!' then cried the brother grim,
`Why dost thou gaze so after him?'
"It is May Ellen's wedding day,
The sky is blue and fair,
And many a lord and lady gay
In church are gathered there.
The bridegroom was Sir Hugh the Bold,
All clad in silk and cloth of gold.
"In came the bride in samite white
With a white wreath on her head;
Her eyes were fixed with a glassy look,
Her face was as the dead,
And when she stood among the throng,
She sang a wild and wondrous song.
"Then came a strange and rushing sound
Like the coming wind doth bring,
And in the open windows shot
Nine swans on whistling wing,
And high above the heads they flew,
In gleaming fight the darkness through.
"Around May Ellen's head they flew
In wide and windy fight,
And three times round the circle drew.
The guests shrank in affright,
And the priest beside the altar there,
Did cross himself with muttered prayer.
"But the third time they flew around,
Fair Ellen straight was gone,
And in her place, upon the ground,
There stood a snow-white swan.
Then, with a wild and lovely song,
It joined the swift and winged throng.
"There's ancient men at weddings been,
For sixty years and more,
But such a wondrous wedding day,
They never saw before.
But none could check and none could stay,
The swans that bore the bride away_."
Not a sound broke the stillness when Allan a Dale had done,
but all sat gazing at the handsome singer, for so sweet was
his voice and the music that each man sat with bated breath,
lest one drop more should come and he should lose it.
"By my faith and my troth," quoth Robin at last, drawing a deep breath,
"lad, thou art--Thou must not leave our company, Allan! Wilt thou not
stay with us here in the sweet green forest? Truly, I do feel my heart
go out toward thee with great love."
Then Allan took Robin's hand and kissed it. "I will stay with thee always,
dear master," said he, "for never have I known such kindness as thou hast
shown me this day."
Then Will Scarlet stretched forth his hand and shook Allan's
in token of fellowship, as did Little John likewise.
And thus the famous Allan a Dale became one of Robin Hood's band.
Robin Hood Seeks the Curtal Friar
THE STOUT YEOMEN of Sherwood Forest were ever early risers of a morn,
more especially when the summertime had come, for then in the freshness
of the dawn the dew was always the brightest, and the song of the small
birds the sweetest.
Quoth Robin, "Now will I go to seek this same Friar of Fountain Abbey
of whom we spake yesternight, and I will take with me four of my
good men, and these four shall be Little John, Will Scarlet, David
of Doncaster, and Arthur a Bland. Bide the rest of you here,
and Will Stutely shall be your chief while I am gone."
Then straightway Robin Hood donned a fine steel coat of chain mail,
over which he put on a light jacket of Lincoln green.
Upon his head he clapped a steel cap, and this he covered by one
of soft white leather, in which stood a nodding cock's plume.
By his side he hung a good broadsword of tempered steel,
the bluish blade marked all over with strange figures of dragons,
winged women, and what not. A gallant sight was Robin so arrayed,
I wot, the glint of steel showing here and there as the sunlight
caught brightly the links of polished mail that showed beneath
his green coat.
So, having arrayed himself, he and the four yeomen set forth upon
their way, Will Scarlet taking the lead, for he knew better than
the others whither to go. Thus, mile after mile, they strode along,
now across a brawling stream, now along a sunlit road, now adown some
sweet forest path, over which the trees met in green and rustling canopy,
and at the end of which a herd of startled deer dashed away,
with rattle of leaves and crackle of branches. Onward they walked
with song and jest and laughter till noontide was passed, when at last
they came to the banks of a wide, glassy, and lily-padded stream.
Here a broad, beaten path stretched along beside the banks, on which path
labored the horses that tugged at the slow-moving barges, laden with
barley meal or what not, from the countryside to the many-towered town.
But now, in the hot silence of the midday, no horse was seen nor
any man besides themselves. Behind them and before them stretched
the river, its placid bosom ruffled here and there by the purple dusk
of a small breeze.
"Now, good uncle," quoth Will Scarlet at last, when they
had walked for a long time beside this sweet, bright river,
"just beyond yon bend ahead of us is a shallow ford which in no
place is deeper than thy mid-thigh, and upon the other side
of the stream is a certain little hermitage hidden amidst
the bosky tangle of the thickets wherein dwelleth the Friar
of Fountain Dale. Thither will I lead thee, for I know the way;
albeit it is not overhard to find."
"Nay," quoth jolly Robin, stopping suddenly, "had I thought
that I should have had to wade water, even were it so crystal
a stream as this, I had donned other clothes than I have upon me.
But no matter now, for after all a wetting will not wash the skin away,
and what must be, must. But bide ye here, lads, for I would
enjoy this merry adventure alone. Nevertheless, listen well,
and if ye hear me sound upon my bugle horn, come quickly."
So saying, he turned and left them, striding onward alone.
Robin had walked no farther than where the bend of the road
hid his good men from his view, when he stopped suddenly,
for he thought that he heard voices. He stood still and listened,
and presently heard words passed back and forth betwixt what seemed
to be two men, and yet the two voices were wondrously alike.
The sound came from over behind the bank, that here was steep
and high, dropping from the edge of the road a half a score
of feet to the sedgy verge of the river.
"'Tis strange," muttered Robin to himself after a space, when the voices
had ceased their talking, "surely there be two people that spoke
the one to the other, and yet methinks their voices are mightily alike.
I make my vow that never have I heard the like in all my life before.
Truly, if this twain are to be judged by their voices, no two peas
were ever more alike. I will look into this matter." So saying,
he came softly to the river bank and laying him down upon the grass,
peered over the edge and down below.
All was cool and shady beneath the bank. A stout osier grew,
not straight upward, but leaning across the water, shadowing the spot
with its soft foliage. All around grew a mass of feathery ferns
such as hide and nestle in cool places, and up to Robin's nostrils
came the tender odor of the wild thyme, that loves the moist verges
of running streams. Here, with his broad back against the rugged
trunk of the willow tree, and half hidden by the soft ferns
around him, sat a stout, brawny fellow, but no other man was there.
His head was as round as a ball, and covered with a mat of
close-clipped, curly black hair that grew low down on his forehead.
But his crown was shorn as smooth as the palm of one's hand,
which, together with his loose robe, cowl, and string of beads,
showed that which his looks never would have done, that he was a friar.
His cheeks were as red and shining as a winter crab, albeit they
were nearly covered over with a close curly black beard,
as were his chin and upper lip likewise. His neck was thick
like that of a north country bull, and his round head closely set
upon shoulders e'en a match for those of Little John himself.
Beneath his bushy black brows danced a pair of little gray
eyes that could not stand still for very drollery of humor.
No man could look into his face and not feel his heartstrings tickled
by the merriment of their look. By his side lay a steel cap,
which he had laid off for the sake of the coolness to his crown.
His legs were stretched wide apart, and betwixt his knees he held
a great pasty compounded of juicy meats of divers kinds made savory
with tender young onions, both meat and onions being mingled
with a good rich gravy. In his right fist he held a great piece
of brown crust at which he munched sturdily, and every now and then
he thrust his left hand into the pie and drew it forth full of meat;
anon he would take a mighty pull at a great bottle of Malmsey
that lay beside him.
"By my faith," quoth Robin to himself, "I do verily believe that this
is the merriest feast, the merriest wight, the merriest place,
and the merriest sight in all merry England. Methought there was
another here, but it must have been this holy man talking to himself."
So Robin lay watching the Friar, and the Friar, all unknowing that
he was so overlooked, ate his meal placidly. At last he was done,
and, having first wiped his greasy hands upon the ferns and wild thyme
(and sweeter napkin ne'er had king in all the world), he took up
his flask and began talking to himself as though he were another man,
and answering himself as though he were somebody else.
"Dear lad, thou art the sweetest fellow in all the world,
I do love thee as a lover loveth his lass. La, thou dost
make me shamed to speak so to me in this solitary place,
no one being by, and yet if thou wilt have me say so,
I do love thee as thou lovest me. Nay then, wilt thou not
take a drink of good Malmsey? After thee, lad, after thee.
Nay, I beseech thee, sweeten the draught with thy lips
(here he passed the flask from his right hand to his left).
An thou wilt force it on me so, I must needs do thy bidding,
yet with the more pleasure do I so as I drink thy very great health
(here he took a long, deep draught). And now, sweet lad,
'tis thy turn next (here he passed the bottle from his left
hand back again to his right). I take it, sweet chuck,
and here's wishing thee as much good as thou wishest me."
Saying this, he took another draught, and truly he drank
enough for two.
All this time merry Robin lay upon the bank and listened, while his
stomach so quaked with laughter that he was forced to press his palm
across his mouth to keep it from bursting forth; for, truly, he would
not have spoiled such a goodly jest for the half of Nottinghamshire.
Having gotten his breath from his last draught, the Friar began talking
again in this wise: "Now, sweet lad, canst thou not sing me a song?
La, I know not, I am but in an ill voice this day; prythee ask me not;
dost thou not hear how I croak like a frog? Nay, nay, thy voice
is as sweet as any bullfinch; come, sing, I prythee, I would rather
hear thee sing than eat a fair feast. Alas, I would fain not sing
before one that can pipe so well and hath heard so many goodly songs
and ballads, ne'ertheless, an thou wilt have it so, I will do my best.
But now methinks that thou and I might sing some fair song together;
dost thou not know a certain dainty little catch called `The Loving Youth
and the Scornful Maid'? Why, truly, methinks I have heard it ere now.
Then dost thou not think that thou couldst take the lass's part gif
I take the lad's? I know not but I will try; begin thou with the lad
and I will follow with the lass."
Then, singing first with a voice deep and gruff, and anon in one high
and squeaking, he blithely trolled the merry catch of
THE LOVING YOUTH AND THE SCORNFUL MAID _HE
"Ah, it's wilt thou come with me, my love?
And it's wilt thou, love, he mine?
For I will give unto thee, my love,
Gay knots and ribbons so fine.
I'll woo thee, love, on my bended knee,
And I'll pipe sweet songs to none but thee.
Then it's hark! hark! hark!
To the winged lark
And it's hark to the cooing dove!
And the bright daffodil
Groweth down by the rill,
So come thou and be my love.
"Now get thee away, young man so fine;
Now get thee away, I say;
For my true love shall never be thine,
And so thou hadst better not stay.
Thou art not a fine enough lad for me,
So I'll wait till a better young man I see.
For it's hark! hark! hark!
To the winged lark,
And it's hark to the cooing dove!
And the bright daffodil
Groweth down by the rill,
Yet never I'll be thy love.
"Then straight will I seek for another fair she,
For many a maid can be found,
And as thou wilt never have aught of me,
By thee will I never be bound.
For never is a blossom in the field so rare,
But others are found that are just as fair.
So it's hark! hark! hark!
To the joyous lark
And it's hark to the cooing dove!
And the bright daffodil
Groweth down by the rill,
And I'll seek me another dear love.
"Young man, turn not so very quick away
Another fair lass to find.
Methinks I have spoken in haste today,
Nor have I made up my mind_,
And if thou only wilt stay with me,
I'll love no other, sweet lad, but thee_."
Here Robin could contain himself no longer but burst forth into a mighty
roar of laughter; then, the holy Friar keeping on with the song, he joined
in the chorus, and together they sang, or, as one might say, bellowed:
"_So it's hark! hark! hark!
To the joyous lark
And it's hark to the cooing dove!
For the bright daffodil
Groweth down by the rill
And I'll be thine own true love_."
So they sang together, for the stout Friar did not seem to have heard
Robin's laughter, neither did he seem to know that the yeoman had joined
in with the song, but, with eyes half closed, looking straight before
him and wagging his round head from side to side in time to the music,
he kept on bravely to the end, he and Robin finishing up with a mighty
roar that might have been heard a mile. But no sooner had the last word
been sung than the holy man seized his steel cap, clapped it on his head,
and springing to his feet, cried in a great voice, "What spy have we here?
Come forth, thou limb of evil, and I will carve thee into as fine pudding
meat as e'er a wife in Yorkshire cooked of a Sunday." Hereupon he drew
from beneath his robes a great broadsword full as stout as was Robin's.
"Nay, put up thy pinking iron, friend," quoth Robin,
standing up with the tears of laughter still on his cheeks.
"Folk who have sung so sweetly together should not fight thereafter."
Hereupon he leaped down the bank to where the other stood.
"I tell thee, friend," said he, "my throat is as parched
with that song as e'er a barley stubble in October. Hast thou
haply any Malmsey left in that stout pottle?"
"Truly," said the Friar in a glum voice, "thou dost ask
thyself freely where thou art not bidden. Yet I trust I am
too good a Christian to refuse any man drink that is athirst.
Such as there is o't thou art welcome to a drink of the same."
And he held the pottle out to Robin.
Robin took it without more ado and putting it to his lips, tilted his
head back, while that which was within said "glug! "lug! glug!"
for more than three winks, I wot. The stout Friar watched Robin
anxiously the while, and when he was done took the pottle quickly.
He shook it, held it betwixt his eyes and the light, looked reproachfully
at the yeoman, and straightway placed it at his own lips.
When it came away again there was nought within it.
"Doss thou know the country hereabouts, thou good and holy man?"
asked Robin, laughing.
"Yea, somewhat," answered the other dryly.
"And dost thou know of a certain spot called Fountain Abbey?"
"Then perchance thou knowest also of a certain one who goeth
by the name of the Curtal Friar of Fountain Abbey."
"Well then, good fellow, holy father, or whatever thou art,"
quoth Robin, "I would know whether this same Friar is to be found
upon this side of the river or the other."
"That," quoth the Friar, "is a practical question upon
which the cunning rules appertaining to logic touch not.
I do advise thee to find that out by the aid of thine own
five senses; sight, feeling, and what not."
"I do wish much," quoth Robin, looking thoughtfully at the stout priest,
"to cross yon ford and strive to find this same good Friar."
"Truly," said the other piously, "it is a goodly wish on the part
of one so young. Far be it from me to check thee in so holy a quest.
Friend, the river is free to all."
"Yea, good father," said Robin, "but thou seest that my
clothes are of the finest and I fain would not get them wet.
Methinks thy shoulders are stout and broad; couldst thou not
find it in thy heart to carry me across?"
"Now, by the white hand of the holy Lady of the Fountain!" burst forth
the Friar in a mighty rage, "dost thou, thou poor puny stripling,
thou kiss-my-lady-la poppenjay; thou--thou What shall I call thee?
Dost thou ask me, the holy Tuck, to carry thee? Now I swear--"
Here he paused suddenly, then slowly the anger passed from his face,
and his little eyes twinkled once more. "But why should I not?"
quoth he piously.
"Did not the holy Saint Christopher ever carry the stranger across the river?
And should I, poor sinner that I am, be ashamed to do likewise?
Come with me, stranger, and I will do thy bidding in an humble frame
of mind." So saying, he clambered up the bank, closely followed by Robin,
and led the way to the shallow pebbly ford, chuckling to himself the while
as though he were enjoying some goodly jest within himself.
Having come to the ford, he girded up his robes about his loins,
tucked his good broadsword beneath his arm, and stooped his
back to take Robin upon it. Suddenly he straightened up.
"Methinks," quoth he, "thou'lt get thy weapon wet.
Let me tuck it beneath mine arm along with mine own."
"Nay, good father," said Robin, "I would not burden thee with aught
of mine but myself."
"Dost thou think," said the Friar mildly, "that the good Saint Christopher
would ha' sought his own ease so? Nay, give me thy tool as I bid thee,
for I would carry it as a penance to my pride."
Upon this, without more ado, Robin Hood unbuckled his sword from his side
and handed it to the other, who thrust it with his own beneath his arm.
Then once more the Friar bent his back, and, Robin having mounted upon it,
he stepped sturdily into the water and so strode onward, splashing in
the shoal, and breaking all the smooth surface into ever-widening rings.
At last he reached the other side and Robin leaped lightly from his back.
"Many thanks, good father," quoth he. "Thou art indeed a good and holy man.
Prythee give me my sword and let me away, for I am in haste."
At this the stout Friar looked upon Robin for a long time,
his head on one side, and with a most waggish twist to his face;
then he slowly winked his right eye. "Nay, good youth,"
said he gently, "I doubt not that thou art in haste with thine affairs,
yet thou dost think nothing of mine. Thine are of a carnal nature;
mine are of a spiritual nature, a holy work, so to speak;
moreover, mine affairs do lie upon the other side of this stream.
I see by thy quest of this same holy recluse that thou
art a good young man and most reverent to the cloth.
I did get wet coming hither, and am sadly afraid that should I
wade the water again I might get certain cricks and pains i'
the joints that would mar my devotions for many a day to come.
I know that since I have so humbly done thy bidding thou
wilt carry me back again. Thou seest how Saint Godrick,
that holy hermit whose natal day this is, hath placed in my hands
two swords and in thine never a one. Therefore be persuaded,
good youth, and carry me back again."
Robin Hood looked up and he looked down, biting his nether lip.
Quoth he, "Thou cunning Friar, thou hast me fair and fast enow.
Let me tell thee that not one of thy cloth hath so hoodwinked me
in all my life before. I might have known from thy looks that thou
wert no such holy man as thou didst pretend to be."
"Nay," interrupted the Friar, "I bid thee speak not so scurrilously neither,
lest thou mayst perchance feel the prick of an inch or so of blue steel."
"Tut, tut," said Robin, "speak not so, Friar; the loser
hath ever the right to use his tongue as he doth list.
Give me my sword; I do promise to carry thee back straightway.
Nay, I will not lift the weapon against thee."
"Marry, come up," quoth the Friar, "I fear thee not, fellow.
Here is thy skewer; and get thyself presently ready, for I
would hasten back."
So Robin took his sword again and buckled it at his side;
then he bent his stout back and took the Friar upon it.
Now I wot Robin Hood had a heavier load to carry in the Friar
than the Friar had in him. Moreover he did not know the ford,
so he went stumbling among the stones, now stepping into a deep hole,
and now nearly tripping over a boulder, while the sweat ran down his
face in beads from the hardness of his journey and the heaviness
of his load. Meantime, the Friar kept digging his heels into Robin's
sides and bidding him hasten, calling him many ill names the while.
To all this Robin answered never a word, but, having softly felt around
till he found the buckle of the belt that held the Friar's sword,
he worked slyly at the fastenings, seeking to loosen them.
Thus it came about that, by the time he had reached the other bank
with his load, the Friar's sword belt was loose albeit he knew it not;
so when Robin stood on dry land and the Friar leaped from his back,
the yeoman gripped hold of the sword so that blade, sheath, and strap
came away from the holy man, leaving him without a weapon.
"Now then," quoth merry Robin, panting as he spake and wiping
the sweat from his brow, "I have thee, fellow. This time
that same saint of whom thou didst speak but now hath delivered
two swords into my hand and hath stripped thine away from thee.
Now if thou dost not carry me back, and that speedily,
I swear I will prick thy skin till it is as full of holes
as a slashed doublet."
The good Friar said not a word for a while, but he looked
at Robin with a grim look. "Now," said he at last, "I did
think that thy wits were of the heavy sort and knew not that
thou wert so cunning. Truly, thou hast me upon the hip.
Give me my sword, and I promise not to draw it against thee save
in self-defense; also, I promise to do thy bidding and take
thee upon my back and carry thee."
So jolly Robin gave him his sword again, which the Friar buckled
to his side, and this time looked to it that it was more secure
in its fastenings; then tucking up his robes once more, he took
Robin Hood upon his back and without a word stepped into the water,
and so waded on in silence while Robin sat laughing upon his back.
At last he reached the middle of the ford where the water was deepest.
Here he stopped for a moment, and then, with a sudden lift of his
hand and heave of his shoulders, fairly shot Robin over his head
as though he were a sack of grain.
Down went Robin into the water with a mighty splash.
"There," quoth the holy man, calmly turning back again to the shore,
"let that cool thy hot spirit, if it may."
Meantime, after much splashing, Robin had gotten to his feet and stood gazing
about him all bewildered, the water running from him in pretty little rills.
At last he shot the water out of his ears and spat some out of his mouth,
and, gathering his scattered wits together, saw the stout Friar standing
on the bank and laughing. Then, I wot, was Robin Hood a mad man.
"Stay, thou villain!" roared he, "I am after thee straight, and if I do
not carve thy brawn for thee this day, may I never lift finger again!"
So saying, he dashed, splashing, to the bank.
"Thou needst not hasten thyself unduly," quoth the stout Friar. "Fear not;
I will abide here, and if thou dost not cry `Alack-a-day' ere long time
is gone, may I never more peep through the brake at a fallow deer."
And now Robin, having reached the bank, began, without more ado,
to roll up his sleeves above his wrists. The Friar, also,
tucked his robes more about him, showing a great, stout arm
on which the muscles stood out like humps of an aged tree.
Then Robin saw, what he had not wotted of before, that the Friar
had also a coat of chain mail beneath his gown.
"Look to thyself," cried Robin, drawing his good sword.
"Ay, marry," quoth the Friar, who held his already
in his hand. So, without more ado, they came together,
and thereupon began a fierce and mighty battle.
Right and left, and up and down and back and forth they fought.
The swords flashed in the sun and then met with a clash
that sounded far and near. I wot this was no playful bout
at quarterstaff, but a grim and serious fight of real earnest.
Thus they strove for an hour or more, pausing every now and then
to rest, at which times each looked at the other with wonder,
and thought that never had he seen so stout a fellow;
then once again they would go at it more fiercely than ever.
Yet in all this time neither had harmed the other nor caused
his blood to flow. At last merry Robin cried, "Hold thy hand,
good friend!" whereupon both lowered their swords.
"Now I crave a boon ere we begin again," quoth Robin, wiping the sweat
from his brow; for they had striven so long that he began to think that it
would be an ill-done thing either to be smitten himself or to smite so stout
and brave a fellow.
"What wouldst thou have of me?" asked the Friar.
"Only this," quoth Robin; "that thou wilt let me blow thrice upon
my bugle horn."
The Friar bent his brows and looked shrewdly at Robin Hood. "Now I
do verily think that thou hast some cunning trick in this," quoth he.
"Ne'ertheless, I fear thee not, and will let thee have thy wish,
providing thou wilt also let me blow thrice upon this little whistle."
"With all my heart," quoth Robin, "so, here goes for one."
So saying, he raised his silver horn to his lips and blew thrice
upon it, clear and high.
Meantime, the Friar stood watching keenly for what might come
to pass, holding in his fingers the while a pretty silver whistle,
such as knights use for calling their hawks back to their wrists,
which whistle always hung at his girdle along with his rosary.
Scarcely had the echo of the last note of Robin's bugle come winding back
from across the river, when four tall men in Lincoln green came running
around the bend of the road, each with a bow in his hand and an arrow
ready nocked upon the string.
"Ha! Is it thus, thou traitor knave!" cried the Friar. "Then, marry,
look to thyself!" So saying, he straightway clapped the hawk's whistle
to his lips and blew a blast that was both loud and shrill. And now there
came a crackling of the bushes that lined the other side of the road,
and presently forth from the covert burst four great, shaggy hounds.
"At 'em, Sweet Lips! At 'em, Bell Throat! At 'em, Beauty! At 'em, Fangs!"
cried the Friar, pointing at Robin.
And now it was well for that yeoman that a tree stood nigh
him beside the road, else had he had an ill chance of it.
Ere one could say "Gaffer Downthedale" the hounds were upon him,
and he had only time to drop his sword and leap lightly into the tree,
around which the hounds gathered, looking up at him as though he were
a cat on the eaves. But the Friar quickly called off his dogs.
"At 'em!" cried he, pointing down the road to where the yeomen
were standing stock still with wonder of what they saw.
As the hawk darts down upon its quarry, so sped the four dogs
at the yeomen; but when the four men saw the hounds so coming,
all with one accord, saving only Will Scarlet, drew each man
his goose feather to his ear and let fly his shaft.
And now the old ballad telleth of a wondrous thing that happened, for thus
it says, that each dog so shot at leaped lightly aside, and as the arrow
passed him whistling, caught it in his mouth and bit it in twain.
Now it would have been an ill day for these four good fellows
had not Will Scarlet stepped before the others and met the hounds
as they came rushing. "Why, how now, Fangs!" cried he sternly.
"Down, Beauty! Down, sirrah! What means this?"
At the sound of his voice each dog shrank back quickly and then
straightway came to him and licked his hands and fawned upon him,
as is the wont of dogs that meet one they know. Then the four yeomen
came forward, the hounds leaping around Will Scarlet joyously.
"Why, how now!" cried the stout Friar, "what means this?
Art thou wizard to turn those wolves into lambs? Ha!" cried he,
when they had come still nearer, "can I trust mine eyes?
What means it that I see young Master William Gamwell
in such company?"
"Nay, Tuck," said the young man, as the four came forward to where Robin
was now clambering down from the tree in which he had been roosting,
he having seen that all danger was over for the time; "nay, Tuck, my name
is no longer Will Gamwell, but Will Scarlet; and this is my good uncle,
Robin Hood, with whom I am abiding just now."
"Truly, good master," said the Friar, looking somewhat abashed
and reaching out his great palm to Robin, "I ha' oft heard thy name
both sung and spoken of, but I never thought to meet thee in battle.
I crave thy forgiveness, and do wonder not that I found so stout
a man against me."
"Truly, most holy father," said Little John, "I am more thankful
than e'er I was in all my life before that our good friend Scarlet
knew thee and thy dogs. I tell thee seriously that I felt my
heart crumble away from me when I saw my shaft so miss its aim,
and those great beasts of thine coming straight at me."
"Thou mayst indeed be thankful, friend," said the Friar gravely.
"But, Master Will, how cometh it that thou dost now abide in Sherwood?"
"Why, Tuck, dost thou not know of my ill happening with my
father's steward?" answered Scarlet.
"Yea, truly, yet I knew not that thou wert in hiding because of it.
Marry, the times are all awry when a gentleman must lie hidden
for so small a thing."
"But we are losing time," quoth Robin, "and I have yet to find
that same Curtal Friar."
"Why, uncle, thou hast not far to go," said Will Scarlet,
pointing to the Friar, "for there he stands beside thee."
"How?" quoth Robin, "art thou the man that I have been at such pains
to seek all day, and have got such a ducking for?"
"Why, truly," said the Friar demurely, "some do call me the Curtal Friar
of Fountain Dale; others again call me in jest the Abbot of Fountain Abbey;
others still again call me simple Friar Tuck."
"I like the last name best," quoth Robin, "for it doth slip more glibly
off the tongue. But why didst thou not tell me thou wert he I sought,
instead of sending me searching for black moonbeams?"
"Why, truly, thou didst not ask me, good master," quoth stout Tuck;
"but what didst thou desire of me?"
"Nay," quoth Robin, "the day groweth late, and we cannot
stand longer talking here. Come back with us to Sherwood,
and I will unfold all to thee as we travel along."
So, without tarrying longer, they all departed, with the stout
dogs at their heels, and wended their way back to Sherwood again;
but it was long past nightfall ere they reached the greenwood tree.
Now listen, for next I will tell how Robin Hood compassed the happiness
of two young lovers, aided by the merry Friar Tuck of Fountain Dale.
Robin Hood Compasses a Marriage
AND NOW had come the morning when fair Ellen was to be married,
and on which merry Robin had sworn that Allan a Dale should,
as it were, eat out of the platter that had been filled
for Sir Stephen of Trent. Up rose Robin Hood, blithe and gay,
up rose his merry men one and all, and up rose last of all stout
Friar Tuck, winking the smart of sleep from out his eyes.
Then, while the air seemed to brim over with the song of many birds,
all blended together and all joying in the misty morn, each man
raved face and hands in the leaping brook, and so the day began.
"Now," quoth Robin, when they had broken their fast, and each man had eaten
his fill, "it is time for us to set forth upon the undertaking that we have
in hand for today. I will choose me one score of my good men to go with me,
for I may need aid; and thou, Will Scarlet, wilt abide here and be the chief
while I am gone." Then searching through all the band, each man of whom
crowded forward eager to be chosen, Robin called such as he wished by name,
until he had a score of stout fellows, the very flower of his yeomanrie.
Besides Little John and Will Stutely were nigh all those famous lads of whom I
have already told you. Then, while those so chosen ran leaping, full of joy,
to arm themselves with bow and shaft and broadsword, Robin Hood stepped aside
into the covert, and there donned a gay, beribboned coat such as might have
been worn by some strolling minstrel, and slung a harp across his shoulder,
the better to carry out that part.
All the band stared and many laughed, for never had they seen
their master in such a fantastic guise before.
"Truly," quoth Robin, holding up his arms and looking down at himself,
"I do think it be somewhat of a gay, gaudy, grasshopper dress;
but it is a pretty thing for all that, and doth not ill befit
the turn of my looks, albeit I wear it but for the nonce.
But stay, Little John, here are two bags that I would
have thee carry in thy pouch for the sake of safekeeping.
I can ill care for them myself beneath this motley."
"Why, master," quoth Little John, taking the bags and weighing them
in his hand, "here is the chink of gold."
"Well, what an there be," said Robin, "it is mine own coin and
the band is none the worse for what is there. Come, busk ye, lads,"
and he turned quickly away. "Get ye ready straightway."
Then gathering the score together in a close rank, in the midst
of which were Allan a Dale and Friar Tuck, he led them forth upon
their way from the forest shades.
So they walked on for a long time till they had come out of Sherwood and
to the vale of Rotherstream. Here were different sights from what one saw
in the forest; hedgerows, broad fields of barley corn, pasture lands rolling
upward till they met the sky and all dotted over with flocks of white sheep,
hayfields whence came the odor of new-mown hay that lay in smooth swathes over
which skimmed the swifts in rapid flight; such they saw, and different was it,
I wot, from the tangled depths of the sweet woodlands, but full as fair.
Thus Robin led his band, walking blithely with chest thrown out and head
thrown back, snuffing the odors of the gentle breeze that came drifting
from over the hayfields.
"Truly," quoth he, "the dear world is as fair here as in the woodland shades.
Who calls it a vale of tears? Methinks it is but the darkness in our
minds that bringeth gloom to the world. For what sayeth that merry song
thou singest, Little John? Is it not thus?
"_For when my love's eyes do thine, do thine,
And when her lips smile so rare,
The day it is jocund and fine, so fine,
Though let it be wet or be fair
And when the stout ale is all flowing so fast,
Our sorrows and troubles are things of the past_."
"Nay," said Friar Tuck piously, "ye do think of profane things and of
nought else; yet, truly, there be better safeguards against care and woe
than ale drinking and bright eyes, to wit, fasting and meditation.
Look upon me, have I the likeness of a sorrowful man?"
At this a great shout of laughter went up from all around,
for the night before the stout Friar had emptied twice as many
canakins of ale as any one of all the merry men.
"Truly," quoth Robin, when he could speak for laughter, "I should say
that thy sorrows were about equal to thy goodliness."
So they stepped along, talking, singing, jesting, and laughing,
until they had come to a certain little church that belonged
to the great estates owned by the rich Priory of Emmet. Here it
was that fair Ellen was to be married on that morn, and here
was the spot toward which the yeomen had pointed their toes.
On the other side of the road from where the church stood with waving
fields of barley around, ran a stone wall along the roadside.
Over the wall from the highway was a fringe of young trees
and bushes, and here and there the wall itself was covered
by a mass of blossoming woodbine that filled all the warm air
far and near with its sweet summer odor. Then straightway
the yeomen leaped over the wall, alighting on the tall soft grass
upon the other side, frightening a flock of sheep that lay there
in the shade so that they scampered away in all directions.
Here was a sweet cool shadow both from the wall and from
the fair young trees and bushes, and here sat the yeomen down,
and glad enough they were to rest after their long tramp
of the morning.
"Now," quoth Robin, "I would have one of you watch and tell me when he sees
anyone coming to the church, and the one I choose shall be young David
of Doncaster. So get thee upon the wall, David, and hide beneath the woodbine
so as to keep watch."
Accordingly young David did as he was bidden, the others stretching themselves
at length upon the grass, some talking together and others sleeping.
Then all was quiet save only for the low voices of those that
talked together, and for Allan's restless footsteps pacing up and down,
for his soul was so full of disturbance that he could not stand still,
and saving, also, for the mellow snoring of Friar Tuck, who enjoyed
his sleep with a noise as of one sawing soft wood very slowly.
Robin lay upon his back and gazed aloft into the leaves of the trees,
his thought leagues away, and so a long time passed.
Then up spoke Robin, "Now tell us, young David of Doncaster,
what dost thou see?"
Then David answered, "I see the white clouds floating and I feel
the wind a-blowing and three black crows are flying over the wold;
but nought else do I see, good master."
So silence fell again and another time passed, broken only
as I have said, till Robin, growing impatient, spake again.
"Now tell me, young David, what dost thou see by this?"
And David answered, "I see the windmills swinging and three tall poplar trees
swaying against the sky, and a flock of fieldfares are flying over the hill;
but nought else do I see, good master."
So another time passed, till at last Robin asked young David once
more what he saw; and David said, "I hear the cuckoo singing,
and I see how the wind makes waves in the barley field;
and now over the hill to the church cometh an old friar,
and in his hands he carries a great bunch of keys; and lo!
Now he cometh to the church door."
Then up rose Robin Hood and shook Friar Tuck by the shoulder.
"Come, rouse thee, holy man!" cried he; whereupon, with much grunting,
the stout Tuck got to his feet. "Marry, bestir thyself,"
quoth Robin, "for yonder, in the church door, is one of thy cloth.
Go thou and talk to him, and so get thyself into the church, that thou
mayst be there when thou art wanted; meantime, Little John, Will Stutely,
and I will follow thee anon."
So Friar Tuck clambered over the wall, crossed the road, and came to
the church, where the old friar was still laboring with the great key,
the lock being somewhat rusty and he somewhat old and feeble.
"Hilloa, brother," quoth Tuck, "let me aid thee." So saying,
he took the key from the other's hand and quickly opened the door
with a turn of it.
"Who art thou, good brother?" asked the old friar, in a high,
wheezing voice. "Whence comest thou, and whither art thou going?"
And he winked and blinked at stout Friar Tuck like an owl at the sun.
"Thus do I answer thy questions, brother," said the other.
"My name is Tuck, and I go no farther than this spot, if thou wilt
haply but let me stay while this same wedding is going forward.
I come from Fountain Dale and, in truth, am a certain poor hermit,
as one may say, for I live in a cell beside the fountain blessed
by that holy Saint Ethelrada. But, if I understand aught,
there is to be a gay wedding here today; so, if thou mindest not,
I would fain rest me in the cool shade within, for I would
like to see this fine sight."
"Truly, thou art welcome, brother," said the old man, leading the
way within. Meantime, Robin Hood, in his guise of harper,
together with Little John and Will Stutely, had come to the church.
Robin sat him down on a bench beside the door, but Little John,
carrying the two bags of gold, went within, as did Will Stutely.
So Robin sat by the door, looking up the road and down
the road to see who might come, till, after a time, he saw
six horsemen come riding sedately and slowly, as became them,
for they were churchmen in high orders. Then, when they
had come nearer, Robin saw who they were, and knew them.
The first was the Bishop of Hereford, and a fine figure he cut, I wot.
His vestments were of the richest silk, and around his neck was
a fair chain of beaten gold. The cap that hid his tonsure was
of black velvet, and around the edges of it were rows of jewels
that flashed in the sunlight, each stone being set in gold.
His hose were of flame-colored silk, and his shoes of black velvet,
the long, pointed toes being turned up and fastened to his knees,
and on either instep was embroidered a cross in gold thread.
Beside the Bishop rode the Prior of Emmet upon a mincing palfrey.
Rich were his clothes also, but not so gay as the stout
Bishop's. Behind these were two of the higher brethren of Emmet,
and behind these again two retainers belonging to the Bishop;
for the Lord Bishop of Hereford strove to be as like the great
barons as was in the power of one in holy orders.
When Robin saw this train drawing near, with flash of jewels and silk
and jingle of silver bells on the trappings of the nags, he looked sourly
upon them. Quoth he to himself, "Yon Bishop is overgaudy for a holy man.
I do wonder whether his patron, who, methinks, was Saint Thomas, was given
to wearing golden chains about his neck, silk clothing upon his body,
and pointed shoes upon his feet; the money for all of which, God wot,
hath been wrung from the sweat of poor tenants. Bishop, Bishop, thy pride
may have a fall ere thou wottest of it."
So the holy men came to the church; the Bishop and the Prior jesting
and laughing between themselves about certain fair dames, their words
more befitting the lips of laymen, methinks, than holy clerks.
Then they dismounted, and the Bishop, looking around,
presently caught sight of Robin standing in the doorway.
"Hilloa, good fellow," quoth he in a jovial voice, "who art thou
that struttest in such gay feathers?"
"A harper am I from the north country," quoth Robin, "and I can
touch the strings, I wot, as never another man in all merry England
can do. Truly, good Lord Bishop, many a knight and burgher,
clerk and layman, have danced to my music, willy-nilly, and most
times greatly against their will; such is the magic of my harping.
Now this day, my Lord Bishop, if I may play at this wedding,
I do promise that I will cause the fair bride to love the man
she marries with a love that shall last as long as that twain
shall live together."
"Ha! is it so?" cried the Bishop. "Meanest thou this in sooth?"
And he looked keenly at Robin, who gazed boldly back again into his eyes.
"Now, if thou wilt cause this maiden (who hath verily bewitched my poor
cousin Stephen) thus to love the man she is to marry, as thou sayst
thou canst, I will give thee whatsoever thou wilt ask me in due measure.
Let me have a taste of thy skill, fellow."
"Nay," quoth Robin, "my music cometh not without I choose,
even at a lord bishop's bidding. In sooth, I will not play
until the bride and bridegroom come."
"Now, thou art a saucy varlet to speak so to my crest,"
quoth the Bishop, frowning on Robin. "Yet, I must needs bear
with thee. Look, Prior, hither cometh our cousin Sir Stephen,
and his ladylove."
And now, around the bend of the highroad, came others, riding upon horses.
The first of all was a tall, thin man, of knightly bearing, dressed all in
black silk, with a black velvet cap upon his head, turned up with scarlet.
Robin looked, and had no doubt that this was Sir Stephen, both because
of his knightly carriage and of his gray hairs. Beside him rode a stout
Saxon franklin, Ellen's father, Edward of Deirwold; behind those two came
a litter borne by two horses, and therein was a maiden whom Robin knew must
be Ellen. Behind this litter rode six men-at-arms, the sunlight flashing
on their steel caps as they came jingling up the dusty road.
So these also came to the church, and there Sir Stephen leaped from
his horse and, coming to the litter, handed fair Ellen out therefrom.
Then Robin Hood looked at her, and could wonder no longer how it came
about that so proud a knight as Sir Stephen of Trent wished to marry
a common franklin's daughter; nor did he wonder that no ado was made
about the matter, for she was the fairest maiden that ever he had beheld.
Now, however, she was all pale and drooping, like a fair white lily
snapped at the stem; and so, with bent head and sorrowful look,
she went within the church, Sir Stephen leading her by the hand.
"Why dost thou not play, fellow?" quoth the Bishop, looking sternly at Robin.
"Marry," said Robin calmly, "I will play in greater wise than
Your Lordship thinks, but not till the right time hath come."
Said the Bishop to himself, while he looked grimly at Robin, "When this
wedding is gone by I will have this fellow well whipped for his saucy
tongue and bold speech."
And now fair Ellen and Sir Stephen stood before the altar,
and the Bishop himself came in his robes and opened his book,
whereat fair Ellen looked up and about her in bitter despair,
like the fawn that finds the hounds on her haunch.
Then, in all his fluttering tags and ribbons of red and yellow,
Robin Hood strode forward. Three steps he took from the pillar
whereby he leaned, and stood between the bride and bridegroom.
"Let me look upon this lass," he said in a loud voice. "Why, how now!
What have we here? Here be lilies in the cheeks, and not roses such
as befit a bonny bride. This is no fit wedding. Thou, Sir Knight,
so old, and she so young, and thou thinkest to make her thy wife?
I tell thee it may not be, for thou art not her own true love."
At this all stood amazed, and knew not where to look nor what to think or say,
for they were all bewildered with the happening; so, while everyone looked
at Robin as though they had been changed to stone, he clapped his bugle
horn to his lips and blew three blasts so loud and clear, they echoed
from floor to rafter as though they were sounded by the trump of doom.
Then straightway Little John and Will Stutely came leaping and stood
upon either side of Robin Hood, and quickly drew their broadswords,
the while a mighty voice rolled over the heads of all, "Here be I,
good master, when thou wantest me"; for it was Friar Tuck that so called
from the organ loft.
And now all was hubbub and noise. Stout Edward strode forward raging,
and would have seized his daughter to drag her away, but Little John
stepped between and thrust him back. "Stand back, old man," said he,
"thou art a hobbled horse this day."
"Down with the villains!" cried Sir Stephen, and felt for his sword,
but it hung not beside him on his wedding day.
Then the men-at-arms drew their swords, and it seemed like that blood
would wet the stones; but suddenly came a bustle at the door and
loud voices, steel flashed in the light, and the crash of blows sounded.
The men-at-arms fell back, and up the aisle came leaping eighteen stout
yeomen all clad in Lincoln green, with Allan a Dale at their head.
In his hand he bore Robin Hood's good stout trusty bow of yew,
and this he gave to him, kneeling the while upon one knee.
Then up spake Edward of Deirwold in a deep voice of anger, "Is it thou,
Allan a Dale, that hath bred all this coil in a church?"
"Nay," quoth merry Robin, "that have I done, and I care not who knoweth it,
for my name is Robin Hood."
At this name a sudden silence fell. The Prior of Emmet and those
that belonged to him gathered together like a flock of frightened
sheep when the scent of the wolf is nigh, while the Bishop
of Hereford, laying aside his book, crossed himself devoutly.
"Now Heaven keep us this day," said he, "from that evil man!"
"Nay," quoth Robin, "I mean you no harm; but here is fair Ellen's
betrothed husband, and she shall marry him or pain will be bred
to some of you."
Then up spake stout Edward in a loud and angry voice, "Now I say nay!
I am her father, and she shall marry Sir Stephen and none other."
Now all this time, while everything was in turmoil about him,
Sir Stephen had been standing in proud and scornful silence.
"Nay, fellow," said he coldly, "thou mayst take thy daughter back again;
I would not marry her after this day's doings could I gain all
merry England thereby. I tell thee plainly, I loved thy daughter,
old as I am, and would have taken her up like a jewel from
the sty, yet, truly, I knew not that she did love this fellow,
and was beloved by him. Maiden, if thou dost rather choose
a beggarly minstrel than a high-born knight, take thy choice.
I do feel it shame that I should thus stand talking amid this herd,
and so I will leave you." Thus saying, he turned and,
gathering his men about him, walked proudly down the aisle.
Then all the yeomen were silenced by the scorn of his words.
Only Friar Tuck leaned over the edge of the choir loft and called
out to him ere he had gone, "Good den, Sir Knight. Thou wottest
old bones must alway make room for young blood." Sir Stephen
neither answered nor looked up, but passed out from the church
as though he had heard nought, his men following him.
Then the Bishop of Hereford spoke hastily, "I, too, have no
business here, and so will depart." And he made as though he would go.
But Robin Hood laid hold of his clothes and held him.
"Stay, my Lord Bishop," said he, "I have yet somewhat to say to thee."
The Bishop's face fell, but he stayed as Robin bade him,
for he saw he could not go.
Then Robin Hood turned to stout Edward of Deirwold, and said he,
"Give thy blessing on thy daughter's marriage to this yeoman, and all
will be well. Little John, give me the bags of gold. Look, farmer.
Here are two hundred bright golden angels; give thy blessing,
as I say, and I will count them out to thee as thy daughter's dower.
Give not thy blessing, and she shall be married all the same,
but not so much as a cracked farthing shall cross thy palm. Choose."
Then Edward looked upon the ground with bent brows, turning the matter over
and over in his mind; but he was a shrewd man and one, withal, that made
the best use of a cracked pipkin; so at last he looked up and said,
but in no joyous tone, "If the wench will go her own gait, let her go.
I had thought to make a lady of her; yet if she chooses to be
what she is like to be, I have nought to do with her henceforth.
Ne'ertheless I will give her my blessing when she is duly wedded."
"It may not be," spake up one of those of Emmet. "The banns have not been
duly published, neither is there any priest here to marry them."
"How sayst thou?" roared Tuck from the choir loft. "No priest?
Marry, here stands as holy a man as thou art, any day of the week,
a clerk in orders, I would have thee know. As for the question of banns,
stumble not over that straw, brother, for I will publish them."
So saying, he called the banns; and, says the old ballad, lest three times
should not be enough, he published them nine times o'er. Then straightway
he came down from the loft and forthwith performed the marriage service;
and so Allan and Ellen were duly wedded.
And now Robin counted out two hundred golden angels to Edward
of Deirwold, and he, upon his part, gave his blessing, yet not,
I wot, as though he meant it with overmuch good will.
Then the stout yeomen crowded around and grasped Allan's palm,
and he, holding Ellen's hand within his own, looked about him
all dizzy with his happiness.
Then at last jolly Robin turned to the Bishop of Hereford,
who had been looking on at all that passed with a grim look.
"My Lord Bishop," quoth he, "thou mayst bring to thy mind that thou
didst promise me that did I play in such wise as to cause this fair
lass to love her husband, thou wouldst give me whatsoever I asked
in reason. I have played my play, and she loveth her husband,
which she would not have done but for me; so now fulfill thy promise.
Thou hast upon thee that which, methinks, thou wouldst be the
better without; therefore, I prythee, give me that golden chain
that hangeth about thy neck as a wedding present for this fair bride."
Then the Bishop's cheeks grew red with rage and his eyes flashed.
He looked at Robin with a fell look, but saw that in the yeoman's
face which bade him pause. Then slowly he took the chain
from about his neck and handed it to Robin, who flung it over
Ellen's head so that it hung glittering about her shoulders.
Then said merry Robin, "I thank thee, on the bride's part,
for thy handsome gift, and truly thou thyself art more seemly
without it. Now, shouldst thou ever come nigh to Sherwood I
much hope that I shall give thee there such a feast as thou